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A lesson from the blogging elite: there are many ways to the top

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The really surprising thing about a conversation with some of the blogging world’s most celebrated names is how little they actually have in common — in terms of their motivations, strategies and business models. At paidContent Live on Wednesday, Brain Picking’s Maria Popova, New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, The Dish’s Andrew Sullivan, and web marketing guru Tim Ferriss, discussed the various reasons why they blog, and how (if at all) they monetize their web work.

Sullivan, who earlier this year took his popular Dish blog independent, has been using a metered paywall but has been tweaking that a bit in recent weeks, adding in a monthly subscription service, too. “Once you’ve gotten past the surge of Dish-heads, getting others to cough up online is new and difficult,” said Sullivan. He told the audience that the Dish blog is approaching $700,000 raised out of their goal to raise $900,000, and they have 25,000 subscribers. On the latter number, Sullivan compared it to the size of “a great little magazine.”

For Popova, who has amassed a huge audience through her tweets and blog posts linking to interesting topics, blogging isn’t first and foremost a business, it’s something she would do even if she didn’t make money off of it. “I created it for an audience of one, it’s just grown from there,” said Popova.

Author, investor and media personality Tim Ferriss uses his blog to test out ideas that he then uses for his best selling books. “The blog is where I experiment,” explained Ferriss. It’s also a community builder and communications platform, and Ferriss said that he’s connected with quite a few startups through his blog, which he later went on to invest in.

And for the New York Times’ Ross Sorkin, the DealBook blog, which he edits, is just one of the mediums that he uses to tell stories. The journalist also hosts a TV talk show, writes columns and features, and has written a best-selling book. “I wanted to create a site about a sensibility, not about me,” said Ross Sorkin, and he wanted it to be able, in theory, to live on for decades without him, he added.

The one thing the group did have in common seemed to be a love of creating content, a desire to share and connect with readers, and a drive to experiment with new ways to do this.┬áPopova has another job; her blogging is her passion. Sullivan said he isn’t taking a salary for his new venture and put his own savings into it. He also said sometimes the sheer passion and mass intimacy can become so engrossing that you are sucked into it: “If it turns out that blogging kills people, I will be the first to go.”

Check out the rest of our paidContent Live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

[protected-iframe id=”af704fef9a88f2576306abc5b7c20dbc-33319749-25766478″ info=”″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”]

Updated at 10AM PST, April 18, to correct that while Maria Popova has another job, Brain Pickings pays most of her bills.
A transcription of the video follows on the next page

7 Responses to “A lesson from the blogging elite: there are many ways to the top”

  1. Who Cares

    Hello, where can I see the video? The hyperlinked word “PaidContent Live’ leads to some strange and confusing site simply I have no desire to stay around – unless I want to make myself frustrated, as I am now.

  2. Mark Horner

    I found this conversation to be excellent. And when it ended a bit abruptly, I was disappointed as it felt like the discussion was still warming-up and destined to reveal additional golden nuggets of helpful information.

    Andrew Sullivan’s point about health and balance is no joke. And if he did die from causes related to “over blogging” (certainly hope he doesn’t), I don’t think he’d be the first to do so. I seem to recall a story a few years back about two men who often blogged nearly around-the-clock, then died while still in their mid-life years.

  3. Lisa Cash Hanson

    Love Tim Ferriss He also seems like a very cool guy. Darren Rowes is really amazing too next time you should add him. Plus he’s also about the nicest guy on the planet.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, Ernie – we need more of what you’re doing, I can only give my humble blessing to panels of this form. It was a little unkind of me to only point out what was missing, and for that I apologize. The title just had me all excited about reading about bloggers.

  5. I wish a panel like this included the likes of Jason Kottke, and perhaps more importantly – John Gruber. Except for Popova, the list is made up from journalists turned bloggers (meaning that they already had followers through conventional mediums) and one “marketing guru”.

    We need more insight from independent online (content) publishers.

    • Ernie Sander

      Thanks for the comment, SK. The thinking behind having these particular panelists was to try to put together a group that creates content on a variety of platforms (web, TV, books, etc) and also who (as a group anyways) can talk about being solo vs. working under the umbrella of a bigger organization. But your point is a good one — it would have been interesting to hear from another really successful pure-play indie content publisher.